Midrash is a second compilation of oral law from the period
of the Mishnah. In many ways, the Tosefta acts as a
supplement to the Mishnah (tosefta means
“supplement”). It is an Halakhic work which
corresponds in structure almost exactly to the Mishnah,
with the same divisions for orders (sedarim) and tractates
(masekhot). It is mainly written in Mishnaic Hebrew,
with some Aramaic.
The Mishnah was redacted by Judah haNasi in consultation
with members of his academy (yeshiva), while the Tosefta
was edited by Rabbis Hiyya and Oshaiah on their own, thus the
Tosefta is considered less authoritative in the Orthodox
The text of most of Tosefta agrees nearly verbatim with the
Mishnah, and often varies only slightly. The Tosefta
offers authors' names for laws that are anonymous in the Mishna.
The Tosefta as we have it today functions like a commentary
on unquoted Mishnaic material; It offers additional
haggadic and midrashic material, and it sometimes
contradicts the Mishnah in deciding Halakha (Jewish
law), or in declaring in whose name a law was given.
Much of the Tosefta is currently regarded as being written
shortly after the Mishnah was redacted. The definitive
commentary on the Tosefta is by Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky in
Hebrew (1925-1975 AD).
The legal (halakhic) midrashim
Legal Midrash are the works in which the sources in the
Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) of the traditionally received laws
are identified. These midrashim often predate the Mishnah.
The Midrash linking a verse to a halakha will often
function as a proof of a law's authenticity; a correct elucidation
of the Torah carries with it the support of the halakhah,
and often the reason for the rule's existence (although many
rabbinical laws have no direct Biblical source).
The homiletical (aggadic) midrashim
The homiletical midrashim embrace the interpretation of the
non-legal portions of the Hebrew Bible. These midrashim are
sometimes referred to as Aggadah, a loosely-defined term
that may refer to all non-legal discourse in classical rabbinic
Homiletical explanations of the non-legal parts of Scripture are
characterized by a much greater freedom of exposition than the
legal midrashim. These homiletical explanations could be
philosophical or mystical disquisitions concerning angels, demons,
paradise, hell, the Messiah, Satan, feasts and fasts, parables,
legends, satirical assaults on those who practice idolatry, etc.
Some of these midrashim entail mystical teachings. The
presentation is such that the Midrash is a simple lesson to the
uninitiated, and a direct allusion, or analogy, to a Mystical
teaching for those educated in this area.
The classical midrashim
the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael: this is a legal commentary
on Exodus, concentrating on the legal sections, from Exodus 12 to
35. This midrash collection was redacted into its final
form around the 3rd or 4th century.
the Mekhilta Rabbi Ben Yohai: this is an exegetical
midrash on Exodus 3 to 35, and it is dated to near the 4th
Sifra on Leviticus: the core of this text developed in the
mid-3rd century as a critique and commentary of the Mishnah,
although subsequent additions and editing went on for some time
Sifre on Numbers and Deuteronomy: this work is mainly a
legal midrash, yet includes a long homiletical piece in sections
78-106. The core material was redacted around the middle of the
Sifre Zutta (the small Sifre): this work is a legal
commentary on the book of Numbers. It seems to come from the
early 3rd century.
Midrash Qohelet, on Ecclesiastes: probably before middle
of ninth century.
Midrash Esther, on Esther: 940 AD.
the Pesiqta, a compilation of homilies on special
Pentateuchal and Prophetic lessons: early eighth century.
Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer, a Midrashic narrative of the more
important events of the Pentateuch: not before eighth century.
Midrash Tanhuma on the whole Pentateuch; its homilies
often consist of a legal introduction, followed by several poems,
exposition of the opening verses and the Messianic conclusion
Midrash Shemuel, on the first two Books of Kings (I, II
Midrash Tehillim, on the Psalms.
Midrash Mishle, a commentary on the book of Proverbs.
Seder Olam Rabbah (or simply Seder Olam): this work
covers topics from the Creation of the universe to the
construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Yalkut Shimoni: a collection of midrash on the Tanakh
(both legal and homiletical midrash) compiled by Shimon
ha-Darshan in the 13th century AD and is collected from over 50
other midrashic works.
Tanna Devei Eliyahu: this work stresses the reasons
underlying the commandments, the importance of knowing Torah,
prayer, and repentance, and the ethical and religious values that
are learned through the Bible. It consists of two sections, Seder
Eliyahu Rabbah and Seder Eliyahu Zuta. It is not a compilation
but a uniform work with a single author.
Midrash Rabbah: widely studied are the Rabboth (great
commentaries), a collection of ten midrashim on different
books of the Bible, written by different authors, in different
locales, in different historical eras:
Bereshith Rabba, Genesis Rabbah (sixth century AD),
Shemot Rabba, Exodus Rabbah (eleventh and twelfth century
Vayyiqra Rabba, Leviticus Rabbah (middle seventh century
Bamidbar Rabba, Numbers Rabbah (twellfth century AD),
Devarim Rabba, Deuteronomy Rabbah (tenth century AD),
Shir Hashirim Rabba, Song of Songs Rabbah (probably before
the middle of ninth century AD),
Ruth Rabba, Eicha Rabba, Lamentations Rabbah (seventh